Babette’s Feast

(Gabriel Axel, 1987)

with Mom, Caitlin, Darcy, Theo Meneau, Jane & Mark Capecelatro, and Beth & Mike Ford, Barn Screening Room, 3/28/15

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Beautiful and inscrutable – at once a spiritual parable and a heartfelt celebration of gourmet food.  Babette’s Feast is remarkable for its chilly landscapes, its wry and gentle humor, and its generous, melancholy spirit.  The wisdom and simplicity of the film seem to come from another time – a time when suffering could ennoble, when privation had its rewards, and when God could always be found in the unlikeliest places.

Published in: on April 14, 2015 at 12:36 pm  Leave a Comment  

Inception

(Christopher Nolan, 2010)

with Jess de Martine, on DVD at Jess’s, 3/15/15

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On the surface, Inception seems like a perfect movie to rewatch over and over; it’s dense and twisty and sometimes enigmatic, so why wouldn’t it reward repeat viewing?  The problem is, watching it again reveals more of its flaws.  I estimate that about 50% of the movie’s second half consists of material that – however striking it may be – doesn’t really advance the story.  A climax that occurs on three “levels” of dream simultaneously is a wonderfully ambitious concept, but at any given moment, our protagonist is only active on one level, which means that most of what we’re watching is just people killing time while the hero figures things out elsewhere.

That’s not to say this isn’t a brilliant, groundbreaking, deeply pleasurable movie, of course.  But the fact is, it will never again be as good as when it first hit theaters.  It’s a movie that both invites and deserves scrutiny – but in the end, it also suffers from it.

Published in: on April 9, 2015 at 8:35 am  Leave a Comment  

Nightcrawler

(Dan Gilroy, 2014)

with Mike Lavoie, 378 Bond St., 2/18/15

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Slick and suspenseful, but let down by a whimper of an ending.  The “bad guy does bad things” genre is naturally a little repetitive, and since we’re never in much doubt that Jake Gyllenhaal’s character is a ruthless creep, there’s a limited amount of shock value in watching him do creepy/ruthless things.  Scene by scene, Nightcrawler works very well, but it’s hard to say what we’re left with when it’s over.  Maybe just a general icky feeling about Los Angeles?

Published in: on February 20, 2015 at 4:48 pm  Leave a Comment  

Scarlet Street

(Fritz Lang, 1945)

with Jess de Martine, streaming on Netflix at 115 Fourth Place, 1/26/15

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Nice twisty little film noir, full of nasty ironies and cruelly disappointed hopes.  Edward G. Robinson is wonderful as a milksop who finds his courage (or is it desperation?) in all the wrong places.  The ending is heavily moralistic, and – more damningly – redundant, but the rest is nice and tight, and clever, and juicy, and all the good things a noir should be.

Published in: on January 30, 2015 at 2:39 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Interview

(Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, 2014)

with Devin, on demand at River House, 1/14/15

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Profoundly sloppy and not particularly funny, but engaging enough.  Seth Rogen is extremely likeable, James Franco is sometimes bearable, and it’s kind of fun watching real-life bad guy Kim Jong-un get humiliated and eventually (spoiler alert) killed.  I think the jingoistic American in me enjoyed this movie more than the cinema fan in me did – but I guess I’m okay with that.

Published in: on January 19, 2015 at 4:06 pm  Leave a Comment  

Dodsworth

(William Wyler, 1936)

with Mom and Devin, Barn Screening Room, 1/12/15

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Walter Huston is pretty magnificent as the title character – an earthy, vibrant, playful and serious man stuck in a doomed marriage with a childish, self-dramatizing, unfaithful woman.  Unfortunately, the latter character is so comprehensively unappealing that Dodsworth’s attachment to her can only bewilder and annoy us – and the movie has one of those washing-machine plots where the characters do nothing but make the same mistakes over and over (what is this – real life???).  Dodsworth has some lovely moments, but the antagonist kind of sinks it.  (Fun fact: both a young David Niven and a young John Payne – later Fred Gailey in Miracle on 34th St. – appear in small roles.)

Published in: on January 13, 2015 at 3:53 pm  Leave a Comment  

Risky Business

(Paul Brickman, 1983)

with Jess de Martine, on DVD at Jess’s place, 1/4/14

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God, this is a weird one.  The plot leads us to expect a teen sex comedy, and there are moments when that’s what we get – but there are also some strange musical montages that feel like dream sequences (but aren’t), and our protagonist mostly seems to hate being in a teen sex comedy, and he’s so stressed out by everything that happens that it’s hard for the audience not to get stressed out in response.  In a classic farce, Joel would scramble desperately to hold things together, and only succeed in making them worse; in a more modern comedy, he might decide that having his house invaded by hookers is awesome, and determine to make the most of it – consequences be damned.  In Risky Business, Joel is strangely passive.  Sometimes he whines; sometimes he tries to fix things; mostly he just goes along with other people’s suggestions, without much enthusiasm.  Despite Tom Cruise’s charm, Joel is a dead fish of a main character – and Risky Business is a “comedy” that comes across as oddly muted and vaguely depressing.

Published in: on January 8, 2015 at 4:35 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Social Network

(David Fincher, 2010)

with Devin, Barn Screening Room, 12/30/14

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Still tight, slick, nimble, propulsive, and fun.  The ending is very abrupt, and I’m not convinced this movie has a climax, but somehow it all works.  Did I mention it was fun?  It is.  It’s fun.  When it comes to turning potentially dry material into juicy, compulsively-watchable drama, Sorkin and Fincher are about as good as it gets.

Published in: on January 8, 2015 at 3:35 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Shawshank Redemption

(Frank Darabont, 1994)

with Jess de Martine, Barn Screening Room, 12/28/14

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Finally!  I’ve seen it!  And you know what?  It’s very good.  I love the way Andy Dufresne is presented as both a hero and a cipher – both a likeable guy, and a bit of a cold fish.  Tim Robbins is perfectly cast in the role of Andy – and Morgan Freeman, playing the much more grounded and relatable narrator, makes a perfect foil.  In a sense, The Shawshank Redemption is a spiritual brother to Cool Hand Luke; like Luke, Andy is less a protagonist than a legend, and the movie – in its calm, laid-back way – has the feel of a tall tale.  Warm and mellow even in its darkest moments, Shawshank unfolds like a summer afternoon – and if the last ten minutes feel a bit slow and redundant, that’s a small fault that we can easily forgive.

Published in: on January 6, 2015 at 8:04 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Theory of Everything

(James Marsh, 2014)

with Mom, Darcy, Caitlin, Jess de Martine, Theo Meneau, and Mike Hagerman, Barn Screening Room, 12/26/14

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Eddie Redmayne is absolutely phenomenal in this movie.  His Stephen Hawking is impish, charismatic, and endlessly watchable – both before and after the symptoms of his ALS kick in.  The movie, like virtually all biopics, is frustratingly scattered, but it’s a worthy enough container for Redmayne’s tremendous performance – although whoever’s responsible for the godawful color correction (or lack thereof?) should be fired and probably hanged.

Published in: on January 6, 2015 at 7:53 pm  Leave a Comment